Excerpts from Foxden Acres. Book 1, Chapter 1, The Dudley Sisters Saga.

Meet Margot, Claire and Ena in Bess Dudley’s story about friendships, loyalty, love and loss – and starting again.

 


An excerpt from Foxden Acres, Chapter One.

Bess fled down the stairs and ran across the marble hall to the front door.  She turned the handle, flung open the door and was through it in a flash.  She spun on her heels and pulled the large brass knob, until she heard the door click shut.  Holding onto the doorknob to steady herself, she caught her breath.  ‘Done it!’

     ‘Done what?’ someone standing behind her demanded. 

      Bess froze.  A wave of panic went through her.  She needed to compose herself – and quickly.  She lifted her head, stood as tall as she could, and turned to face her inquisitor. 

     ‘Who are you and what are you doing?’ he barked. 

     Bess opened her mouth, but was too shocked to speak.  The man standing in front of her was James Foxden, her brother Tom’s childhood friend and heir to the Foxden Estate.  She made a dash for the semi-circle of stone steps that would take her down to the drive, but James Foxden sidestepped and blocked her passage.  He threw down his cigarette, and without taking his eyes off her, ground it beneath the sole of his shoe.  ‘I asked you a question.  Who are you and what are you doing here?’ 

     ‘That’s two questions…  Which would you like me to answer first?’  

     James Foxden didn’t reply but kept looking at her, the frown lines on his forehead deepening.   ‘Just a minute…?’ 

     Bess watched the expression on James Foxden’s face turn from a scowl to a look of surprise. Then he roared with laughter.  ‘It’s young Elizabeth, isn’t it?  Tom’s sister?’  He extended his hand in formal greeting.

     Bess’s eyes flashed.  ‘Yes, I am Tom’s sister.’  Taking his outstretched hand, she thought how full of himself Tom’s old friend had become.  ‘Bess Dudley, how do you do?  Your father invited me to study in the library,’ she exaggerated, ‘and I lost track of the time.  Goodbye.’ 

    ‘Don’t go.  I haven’t seen you for years, not since I moved to live in London.  I hear you’re down there too, at a Teachers’ Training College.  How are the long and lonely corridors of academia?  How are your parents, your sisters?  How’s Tom?  Father tells me he’s doing a terrific job in Suffolk.’ 

     Bess wasn’t sure whether James Foxden was being patronising or whether he was genuinely interested in her family.  She gave him the benefit of the doubt.  ‘My parents are well, thank you, so is Tom.  He’ll be at home now; he’s here for the New Year.’

     ‘Good, perhaps we can–?’  At that moment an elegant young woman with black hair styled in a fashionable bob, wearing an evening gown of cherry-red velvet, appeared at the door – and James let go of Bess’s hand.

     Acknowledging Bess with a smile, more polite than friendly, the young woman looked coquettishly at James. ‘James, you promised me this dance.’  Then, without waiting for a reply, she half-walked, half-waltzed back to the ballroom, but didn’t enter.  She stood in the doorway, swaying to the music. 

     Bess turned to leave.  ‘Do you have to go?’ James asked. ‘Come and join the party.’ 

     ‘Thank you, but I’m not dressed for a party.’  Bess held her only winter coat firmly in place so the simple grey shift beneath it couldn’t be seen.  ‘Besides, my parents are expecting me.’

     ‘Of course.  Wish your family a happy New Year and give Tom my best.  Tell him to come up when he has time and we’ll go to the Crown for a drink – it would be good to catch up.’  James stood aside to let Bess pass.  ‘Will you be safe walking home on your own?’ he asked as she drew level.

     Her heart was thumping so loudly in her chest, she felt sure he’d hear it. ‘Yes, I’ll be fine.  I love walking home on nights like this,’ she said, gazing up at the full moon in the clear winter sky.  Sensing James was watching her, she brought her focus back to earth and for the longest moment found herself looking into his eyes. 

     Embarrassed by the intimacy of the situation, she said, ‘Happy New Year,’ which broke the spell, and she ran down the steps. 

     ‘Happy New Year… 

     By the way,’ he called after her, ‘what was it you’d done?’

     ‘Done?’

     ‘Yes, when you left the Hall you said, “Done it!”’

     ‘Oh, that!’  Bess didn’t stop.  ‘I’d left without being seen.’

     ‘But you haven’t…’ His words were lost in the cold night air.

An excerpt from Foxden Acres, Chapter One.

Bess fled down the stairs and ran across the marble hall to the front door.  She turned the handle, flung open the door and was through it in a flash.  She spun on her heels and pulled the large brass knob, until she heard the door click shut.  Holding onto the doorknob to steady herself, she caught her breath.  ‘Done it!’

     ‘Done what?’ someone standing behind her demanded. 

      Bess froze.  A wave of panic went through her.  She needed to compose herself – and quickly.  She lifted her head, stood as tall as she could, and turned to face her inquisitor. 

     ‘Who are you and what are you doing?’ he barked. 

     Bess opened her mouth, but was too shocked to speak.  The man standing in front of her was James Foxden, her brother Tom’s childhood friend and heir to the Foxden Estate.  She made a dash for the semi-circle of stone steps that would take her down to the drive, but James Foxden sidestepped and blocked her passage.  He threw down his cigarette, and without taking his eyes off her, ground it beneath the sole of his shoe.  ‘I asked you a question.  Who are you and what are you doing here?’ 

     ‘That’s two questions…  Which would you like me to answer first?’  

     James Foxden didn’t reply but kept looking at her, the frown lines on his forehead deepening.   ‘Just a minute…?’ 

     Bess watched the expression on James Foxden’s face turn from a scowl to a look of surprise. Then he roared with laughter.  ‘It’s young Elizabeth, isn’t it?  Tom’s sister?’  He extended his hand in formal greeting.

     Bess’s eyes flashed.  ‘Yes, I am Tom’s sister.’  Taking his outstretched hand, she thought how full of himself Tom’s old friend had become.  ‘Bess Dudley, how do you do?  Your father invited me to study in the library,’ she exaggerated, ‘and I lost track of the time.  Goodbye.’ 

    ‘Don’t go.  I haven’t seen you for years, not since I moved to live in London.  I hear you’re down there too, at a Teachers’ Training College.  How are the long and lonely corridors of academia?  How are your parents, your sisters?  How’s Tom?  Father tells me he’s doing a terrific job in Suffolk.’ 

     Bess wasn’t sure whether James Foxden was being patronising or whether he was genuinely interested in her family.  She gave him the benefit of the doubt.  ‘My parents are well, thank you, so is Tom.  He’ll be at home now; he’s here for the New Year.’

     ‘Good, perhaps we can–?’  At that moment an elegant young woman with black hair styled in a fashionable bob, wearing an evening gown of cherry-red velvet, appeared at the door – and James let go of Bess’s hand.

     Acknowledging Bess with a smile, more polite than friendly, the young woman looked coquettishly at James. ‘James, you promised me this dance.’  Then, without waiting for a reply, she half-walked, half-waltzed back to the ballroom, but didn’t enter.  She stood in the doorway, swaying to the music. 

     Bess turned to leave.  ‘Do you have to go?’ James asked. ‘Come and join the party.’ 

     ‘Thank you, but I’m not dressed for a party.’  Bess held her only winter coat firmly in place so the simple grey shift beneath it couldn’t be seen.  ‘Besides, my parents are expecting me.’

     ‘Of course.  Wish your family a happy New Year and give Tom my best.  Tell him to come up when he has time and we’ll go to the Crown for a drink – it would be good to catch up.’  James stood aside to let Bess pass.  ‘Will you be safe walking home on your own?’ he asked as she drew level.

     Her heart was thumping so loudly in her chest, she felt sure he’d hear it. ‘Yes, I’ll be fine.  I love walking home on nights like this,’ she said, gazing up at the full moon in the clear winter sky.  Sensing James was watching her, she brought her focus back to earth and for the longest moment found herself looking into his eyes. 

     Embarrassed by the intimacy of the situation, she said, ‘Happy New Year,’ which broke the spell, and she ran down the steps. 

     ‘Happy New Year… 

     By the way,’ he called after her, ‘what was it you’d done?’

     ‘Done?’

     ‘Yes, when you left the Hall you said, “Done it!”’

     ‘Oh, that!’  Bess didn’t stop.  ‘I’d left without being seen.’

     ‘But you haven’t…’ His words were lost in the cold night air.

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